Emirates has issued a strongly worded statement condemning Heathrow airport’s recent decision to cap customer numbers at 100,000 passengers per day over the summer.
Calling the move “entirely unreasonable and unacceptable”, the Gulf carrier said that it was rejecting the demands, and planned to operate as scheduled to and from Heathrow “until further notice”.
Emirates said that it was “highly regrettable” that Heathrow had given it just 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, including the dictating of “the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers”, and the threatening of legal action for non-compliance.
“At London Heathrow airport (LHR), our ground handling and catering – run by Dnata, part of the Emirates Group – are fully ready and capable of handling our flights,” said the airline.
“So the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator.
“Emirates is a key and steadfast operator at LHR, having reinstated sic daily A380 flights since October 2021. From our past ten months of regularly high seat loads, our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport.
“Now, with blatant disregard for consumers, they wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones.
“And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming UK holidays, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after two years of pandemic restrictions.
“Emirates believes in doing the right thing by our customers. However, re-booking the sheer numbers of potentially impacted passengers is impossible with all flights running full for the next weeks, including at other London airports and on other airlines.
“Adding to the complexity, 70 per cent of our customers from LHR are headed beyond Dubai to see loved ones in far flung destinations, and it will be impossible to find them new onward connections at short notice.
“Moving some of our passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also not realistic. Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.”
Emirates also referred to the 100,000-passenger daily cap as “a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air”, citing the daily average of 219,000 passengers handled at the airport during 2019, and accused the airport’s management team of being “cavalier about travellers and their airline customers”.
The airline also said that while it had planned ahead “to get to a state of readiness to serve customers and travel demand, including rehiring and training 1,000 A380 pilots in the past year”, “LHR chose not to act, not to plan, not invest”.
“Now faced with an ‘airmageddon’ situation due to their incompetence and non-action, they are pushing entire burden – of costs and the scramble to sort the mess – to airlines and travellers,” Emirates added.
The carrier said that it welcomed action taken by the UK Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority to seek information from LHR on their response plans, systems resilience, “and to explain the seemingly arbitrary cap of 100,000 daily passengers”.
Business Traveller contacted Heathrow for a response to the statement, and has received the following:
“Aviation is a complex network and no one can operate in isolation. The network continues to suffer from Covid-related challenges.
“While many factors have resulted in the delayed flights, misconnected bags, long waits for arriving bags and last-minute cancellations at Heathrow and airports across Europe in recent weeks – a key issue is airline ground handling teams which are currently only resourced up to 70 per cent capacity to serve passenger demand which has returned to 80-85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
“For months we have asked airlines to help come up with a plan to solve their resourcing challenges, but no clear plans were forthcoming and with each passing day the problem got worse. We had no choice but to take the difficult decision to impose a capacity cap designed to give passengers a better, more reliable journey and to keep everyone working at the airport safe.
“We have tried to be as supportive as possible to airlines and our 100k cap on daily departing passengers is significantly higher than the 64k cap at Schiphol. It would be disappointing if instead of working together, any airline would want to put profit ahead a safe and reliable passenger journey.”
Meanwhile Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, has issued the following statement:
“The Heathrow passenger cap is an outrage for business and leisure travellers.
“The arbitrary daily passenger number has been selected done without consultation with airlines and the wider travel community.
“This is a betrayal of all UK travellers, leaving airlines, travel management companies and travel agents to pick up the pieces.
“Heathrow must be transparent about their problems and offer support for the airlines and travellers this impacts.”
Last month the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority released its final proposals on Heathrow passenger charges, stating that the average maximum charge should fall from its current level of £30.19 to £26.31 by 2026.
The CAA said that the reduction “reflects expected increases in passenger numbers as the recovery from the pandemic continues and the higher level of the price cap in 2022, which was put in place in 2021 to reflect the challenges from the pandemic at the time”.